Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Some business is bad business

October 11, 2010

Strange as it sounds, a valuable piece of business advice comes from knowing when to recognize “bad business.”

When you are building your detailing business, you want to build up a customer base, but you shouldn’t take work from a customer that will lose you money or devalue you or your employees.

Bad business
In the detailing business, there are vehicles in such bad shape that they will make you do a double take; you can’t imagine that people could let their vehicle get that dirty or run-down.

You may encounter interiors saturated with pet urine, food stains, or even carpets tainted with liquids that have caused them to rot-out that you could handle, but you have to ask yourself, "Why in the world would I want to work on this vehicle for this customer?"

There was probably a time in your detail business’ life when you did not turn away such jobs.

Jobs where you had no clue what to do, or you knew couldn't make the customer happy. But you took the job anyway, because you needed the business to survive.

Why was this such a stressful time in your business and personal life? Because the control of your sanity and peace of mind was in the customers’ hands.

So, why do detailers let customers walk all over them? Because these detailers do not place a high enough value on what they offer. They are so desperate for business that they don’t realize that they are the only one that determines the standard of work that comes into their shop, not the customer.

You deserve better
There comes a point in the detail owner’s life when they finally transition from a struggling business to a successful business — when they realize that what they do has a certain value and they will not sell it for less, or to bad customers.

They finally realize that it is in their power to politely smile and simply say they do not think they can detail the vehicle at that price, or meet that customer’s demands and expectations.

Many detailers will not detail vehicles where the carpet is saturated with pet urine, or the paint is a 1970’s model silver metallic that is completely oxidized.

It’s not because you can’t clean the carpet or bring the paint back, it’s because any customer who would allow their vehicle to be a constant toilet for their pets or let their paint deteriorate to that extent, is not a customer you’d want to have.

Hold your ground, no matter how much money they throw at you, or how much they beg, because this can be bad business.

Why work twice as hard on a vehicle that was allowed to reach that point in the first place? The expectations of this type of customer are often much too difficult to meet.

You might receive more money for the extra work, but if the customer doesn’t value the vehicle enough to keep it clean and maintained, how can they possibly value the detailing you will complete for them?

Customer filtration
As the owner you must develop a customer filtration system for your detail business. The purpose of this system is to filter those you allow to come into your detail business.

You should want and have only good-natured, confident and happy people in your shop to build a better business.

In fact, detailers who complain about how much they dislike the detail business are usually the ones who have customers who are price shoppers. This type of behavior comes from a lack of respect. No one, including the customers, the employees and even the owners, have any respect for the work being done or of the people involved.

Formula for success
To be successful you must;

  • Realize and believe that you are offering your customers a quality service.
  • Hire only employees who feel the same way and perform that way; and
  • You need customers who recognize the value of your service and are willing to pay for it.

If you recognize the value of your service, you can charge higher prices and the customer will pay them. But if you charge higher prices, you have to spread the wealth and pay better wages to attract better employees who will deliver better work and service to your customers.

Then customers will tell more people you’re the only detail company to use; this is called the Cycle of Excellence.

Keep in mind the cycle will not accelerate if it doesn’t have the right parts working together.

Each part is dependent on the other, and the whole will not work if every part is not in sync.

So, what are you going to do the next time that “interior from hell” comes in, full of urine pet stains, ground in French fries and grease, and a customer also pushing for a lower price?

You are going to ask yourself, “Is this really a vehicle I want in my shop, and is this person one I want as a customer?” Simply say, “No!”

R.L."Bud" Abraham is president of DETAIL PLUS Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR. Bud is a 37 year veteran of the carwash and detail industries and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the International Carwash Association and the Western Carwash Association. He can be contacted at